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by Chanakya Sen

(A Review of Exiting Iraq: Why the US Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against Al Qaeda, The Cato Institute, Washington D.C., 2004. ISBN: 1-930865-64-3. Price US$15. 96 Pages)

 The best known laissez faire think-tank of the United States, Cato Institute, has been defending limited government, free markets and individual liberty for more than 27 years. True to its credo, this report compiled by foreign policy analysts like Christopher Preble, Ted Carpenter and Subodh Atal advocates focussed and limited American aims in Iraq that advance vital US interests. The uniqueness of this Cato Task Force book is that it speaks the realpolitik language of the Bush administration and still argues for ending the military occupation. Bereft of sentimental anti-war rhetoric, it convincingly promotes pragmatic American military withdrawal and avoidance of another quagmire.

Most studies on post-war Iraq favour long-term US occupation to establish liberal democratic government. The yardstick to measure success or failure of the overall US operation is being expanded to include evangelistic indices such as free press, freedom of women, rights of ethnic minorities, democratic Middle East etc. Nation building rhetoric has “relegated to the background a much more fundamental question: what are America’s national security interests in Iraq?” (p.ix)  Continued military occupation of Iraq is a great threat to American interests on several counts. It emboldens anti-American terrorists to spread wings and weakens democratic change by undermining the Iraqi government’s credibility and authority.

The US military has demonstrated enormous capacity to project power over long distances. “America’s ability to eliminate threats does not depend on a permanent military garrison in a foreign land.” (p.3) The Report’s Executive Summary recommends that all US troops must be withdrawn from Iraq by January 31, 2005. An expeditious military pullout is in the best interests of the US since it saves blood and treasure and helps revision real threats lurking elsewhere.

Ruinous Costs

Thousands of American service personnel have lost their lives or been injured in the occupation of Iraq. At least 3,240 Iraqi civilians were killed in the combat phase of the war and more than 5,500 met violent deaths in the first 12 months of the occupation. The stresses, dangers, risks and hardships faced by US forces subject to roadside bombs, mortar attacks and sniper fire are incalculable. “So long as the US maintains its military occupation, the number of killed and wounded will increase.” (p.40) In the event of a full-scale civil war, innumerable Americans will be trapped in a cauldron of hatred and unspeakable violence.

The example of Iraq is producing force recruitment and retention problems in the US army. Reenlistment shortfalls are rising and tenures are being extended against the will of soldiers. The all-volunteer force is in danger of turning into a bunch of lowly motivated conscripts.

Financially, the US has spent approximately $50 billion per annum to police the Middle East since the end of the first Gulf War. As of January 2004, the monthly operating costs in Iraq stood at $4.7 billion. Intense combat plus damaged equipment in Najaf, Fallujah and other flashpoints are “going to cost us more money.” (p.36) In an era of recession, burdensome taxation and expanding deficits, the occupation is a severe drain on the US economy.

Diplomatically, few countries have been willing to support US actions in Iraq although international cooperation is essential. The war and subsequent occupation have “eroded America’s standing around the world” (p.10) and raised the spectre of irrational invasions by a rogue superpower.

The most debilitating cost of the occupation is that it is a vehicle for Al Qaeda and other extremists to promulgate their message of anti-American hatred. Fundamentalist movements in the Muslim world have received a big fillip from the humiliation heaped on Iraqis by the US army. The US faces a perpetually increasing number of new Islamist enemies in North Africa, Southeast Asia, Italy, France, Britain and Spain. Prolonged US military presence in Iraq is steadily building up grassroots Muslim anger and convincing Muslims everywhere that the US has malicious intentions. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak mentions, “After what has happened in Iraq, there is unprecedented hatred and the Americans know it.” Jordan’s King Abdullah is talking of “animosity that I never felt or heard about towards the United States.”

Like Palestine, Iraq is now a rallying cry for jihadis. Traditional ethnic and religious animosities within Iraq notwithstanding, hostility for American and Coalition forces is common. Rising popular disenchantment with GIs is at an all-time high inside Iraq, hardly a central front for terrorism before the invasion. The only known terror outfit, Ansar-al-Islam survived in the Kurdish areas, not Saddam Hussein’s administered parts. Today, it is fair to hold that Iraq is the magnet for global jihad. Large percentages of Pakistanis, Turks, Jordanians and Moroccans believe suicide attacks in Iraq are justifiable. “Bin Laden’s struggle against the US now resonates with tens of millions of Muslims.” (p.34)

Another major pitfall of the military occupation is that it is encouraging states to develop nuclear weapons that Iraq lacked. According to a US Congressional delegation, leaders in North Korea “have determined that Iraq’s quick collapse derived from its lack of WMD.” They are “developing nuclear weapons as a response to what they saw happened in Iraq.” (p.26) The recent WMD deals with Iran and Libya do not arise from fear of American punitive action as believed, but because “the US is so tied down in Iraq.” (p.25) Iran hasn’t revealed its whole inventory and the agreement with Colonel Gadhafi was signed before the start of the Iraq war. Continued US occupation of Iraq is also distracting Americans from the indiscriminate proliferation of Pakistani nuclear technology. Disciplining the actual WMD dangers across the world is going to make the US safer rather than vainly alleging that Saddam Hussein could nuke the West in 48 hours.

The occupation of Iraq augurs strategic distraction from terrorist groups and states harbouring them. According to former American intelligence officers, “When you commit as much as we did in Iraq, then you subtract what you could commit to the war on terrorism.” Shortage of experts in the CIA in major theatres of terror like Afghanistan-Pakistan owes to the sucking power of Iraq

Democracy at Gunpoint?

American goals in Iraq are recklessly ambitious and arrogant. “To assume that the US has the moral authority, the wisdom and the wherewithal to craft a perfect solution for Iraq” is imperialistic. (p.7) Foreign policies designed from utopian fantasises has destroyed past civilisations. American policies “should seek to preserve American security, not remake other societies.” (p.8) Given the lack of precedents, US attempts to carve a liberal pluralistic and unified post-Saddam order are Sisyphean. Only 4 of the 16 regime change missions of the US have resulted in establishment of democracy in the 20th century. If general elections are held in the presence of US troops, the results will inevitably be blamed on American coercion and the current state of “partial sovereignty” will continue to rot. Even if some semblance of democracy develops in Iraq, the Dominoes theory of transforming the entire Middle East through a democratic wave is “not based on facts on the ground.” (p.50)

(Over) Staying the Course

All indications are that the Bush administration wants to “stay the course” in Iraq indefinitely. Think-tanks close to the government are exhorting permanent bases in Iraq for years, possibly decades. President Bush, once a critic of open-ended occupation, now says, “We’re not going to leave. We’re going to do the job." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has compared Iraq to the rebuilding of Europe after World War II, a project that would take “many years.” Undersecretary of Defense, Douglas Feith, is on record that “the project the US is undertaking is unmistakably long-term.” Creation of a new Middle East Command in Baghdad with a 4-star general in charge informs the Pentagon’s estimate that “troops would be in Iraq for decades.” (General Richard Myers).   

The US diplomatic mission in Baghdad is planned to be 1000 members strong, clearly hinting at long term entanglement in Iraq.

All these appurtenances of occupation are being erected when Iraq is not vital to US security. A military occupation is not essential to ensure access to the region’s oil. If Iraqi oil is withheld from world markets, the economic impact would be very slight for Americans. It would hardly threaten American energy security or trigger a crisis.

Getting Out

Blueprints of rapid victory succeeded by evacuation of American troops before December 2003 have entered dustbins. It is “particularly unwise” to declare that ridding Iraq of ethnic strife, organising elections and constitution making are vital to US security. A genuinely democratic Iraq is anyway no guarantee against anti-American terrorism, just as military occupation isn’t. In fact, correspondents of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi worry that if the American army quits Iraq, his terrorist tactics will lose appeal. Getting out of Iraq quickly will broadcast to the world that the US does not covet Iraqi oil or suppression of Muslims. “It will be a greater strategic victory for the jihadis if we stay.” (p.57) If an orderly voluntary withdrawal doesn’t happen, the US will be forced to quit ignominiously on the terms of the jihadis. What is required from the White House is “courage and a sea change in thinking, shattering neo-conservative dreams” of permanent war (p.60)

Immediately after an Iraqi interim government is sworn in, the US must agree to a timetable for withdrawal of Coalition forces and enable Iraqis to mount self-defence. A ‘drawdown’ will be the first step, followed by a withdrawal of the balance of forces before national elections in Iraq.

Since September 11 2001, George W Bush has embarked on a series of suicidal foreign policy moves that are meeting Waterloo in the streets of Iraq. For the person who finds himself in a hole, the best advice is to stop digging. Cato’s Exiting Iraq Task Force has delivered the wisest counsel.

 


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